City of Goleta v. Superior Court of Santa Barbara County  (December 21, 2006, S129125) __Cal.App.4th__

By Maria Pracher

The California Supreme Court has held that the newly incorporated City of Goleta could disapprove a final subdivision map even though the vesting tentative subdivision map had been approved by Santa Barbara County.  Government Code section 66413.5(f), which provides for the mandatory approval of a final map by a newly incorporated city if the vesting tentative map has been approved by a county, did not apply given the facts in this case.  Additionally, the City’s adoption of the County codes did not prevent it from denying the map, and nothing in the City’s actions with respect to the project estopped it from denying the final map.

A developer submitted a vesting tentative subdivision map to Santa Barbara County for a residential project on a site located within the boundaries of an area slated for incorporation by the new City of Goleta.  The County approved the map after Goleta’s incorporation was approved by the electorate.  When the incorporation became effective, the City Council adopted the County ordinances, as required by Government Code section 57376(a).  Although the City did not dispute that the final map was in substantial compliance with the vesting tentative map, it denied the final map.

Government Code section 66413.5(a) generally compels a newly incorporated city to approve a final map for a subdivision if: (a) the tentative map was previously approved by the County; (b) the map was submitted before the first signatures were placed on the incorporation petition; and (c) the  county approval of the tentative map occurred before the incorporation election (Gov. Code section 66413.5(f)).  In this case, the Government Code temporal requirements were not met.  Thus, the City was not constrained by the otherwise mandatory approval requirement.

Additionally, in adopting the County’s subdivision ordinances, the City did not surrender its discretion to deny the final map.  One section of the City’s code required approval of final maps that comply with all applicable legal requirements.  The Court, however, found that this provision applied only to City-approved tentative maps, because another section of the City’s code identified the City as the decision maker for all tentative maps.  Thus, the City retained discretion to disapprove tentative maps approved by the County.

The Court also rejected the developer’s contention that the City was estopped from denying the final map.  Given that the City had expressed concerns about the project during the County approval process, the developer could not establish the essential elements of an estoppel claim.  Additionally, neither the exemption of the project from a City building moratorium nor the City’s processing of the final map were sufficient to support an estoppel claim against the City.

For more information please contact Maria Pracher.  Maria Pracher is special counsel in the Real Estate, Land Use and Environmental Practice Group in the firm’s San Francisco Office.